More than three thousand people marched through Holy Apostles’ Square in Rome on Wednesday to demonstrate “against the exodus and persecution of Christians in the Middle East and for religious freedom in the world.” The march was organized by Magdi Allam, the vice director of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches supported the march and said he hoped it would bring “positive results for the Holy Land, and for Christians in Iraq and Iran, that they might not feel forced to flee their countries.”
Numerous other bishops expressed their support for the march, including Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar of the Diocese of Rome.
Auxiliary Bishop Shelmon Warduni of Baghdad told participants, “In the name of all those persecuted for the faith I thank you. I ask to you make the political and religious world and all public opinion sensitive to the plight of persecuted Christians and that you continue to do so in the future.”
Allam told marchers they were gathered together, regardless of creed or nationality, to “affirm and defend the right to religious freedom for all in all parts of the world.”
Former Italian government official Rocco Buttiglione said, “Religious freedom is the heart of all freedom and for the first time the public is being shown that Christians are being persecuted.”
Regarding the kidnapping of Father Giancarlo Bossi in the Philippines, Buttiglione said, “Public opinion has not been mobilized as in other occasions. Will the government be moved just as well without the pressure from public opinion? Maybe yes, maybe no,” he said, but the way Christians are being treated in many regions of the world is “unacceptable.”
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who also attended the march, said the denial of religious freedom is “unacceptable.” “The fact that people of different religions are here today is a wonderful example and a splendid sign,” he said.
The chief rabbi of Rome, Ricardo Di Segni, said, “It is a moral imperative for us to be here because when a persecuted religious minority or community protests for its rights it then becomes our duty as well.”